Documents considered by the Committee on 3 July 2019 Contents

4The EU’s “Military Mobility” Action Plan: Progress Report

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the Defence Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee

Document details

Joint Report on the implementation of the Action Plan on Military Mobility.

Legal base


Ministry of Defence

Document Number

(40607), 9863/19, JOIN(2019) 11

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

4.1In recent years, EU Member States—with the support of the European Commission and the European Defence Agency—have significantly increased their cooperation on defence matters. The broad objectives of the so-called ‘Defence Union’ were set out in the Commission’s European Defence Action Plan, published in 2017.

4.2Since then, twenty-five Member States have made political commitments to one another about improving their military capabilities and increasing defence expenditure as part of ‘Permanent Structured Cooperation’ (PESCO);15 the EU has established a centralised Military Planning & Conduct Capability unit (MPCC) for its non-executive missions overseas;16 and the EU budget is being used for the first time to fund, research & develop new defensive technologies.17 In September 2018, the European Commission also suggested that Member States should take more decisions under the EU’s Common Foreign & Security Policy by qualified majority, rather than by unanimity.

4.3A specific area of interest to EU countries in the area of defence cooperation is ‘military mobility’, the movement of military personnel and assets from one place to another (including across national borders) by various means of transport. This effectively consists of two parallel tracks, within which specific initiatives are being undertaken to remove barriers to the smooth transportation of personnel and equipment across EU borders:

4.4The UK is not a participant in PESCO (and by extension therefore not involved in the implementation of the intergovernmental ‘Military Mobility’ project). Any actions taken by the EU with respect to regulatory matters within its remit that affect movement of troops and equipment, like customs and VAT procedures, would apply to the UK while it remains bound by EU law.18 After Brexit, the manner in which the UK cooperates with the EU on matters of defence and security remains very much an open question. However, the Ministry of Defence has consistently said that the UK participation in initiatives relating to military mobility could be of potential benefit. Indeed, it is the only PESCO project—out of thirty-four—that the Government has explicitly identified as being of interest to the UK, and one it may seek to join on a voluntary basis as a non-EU country.

4.5In April 2018, the Minister for Europe and the Americas ( Rt Hon. Sir Alan Duncan MP) told us:

The UK has experienced first-hand how issues with European transport infrastructure can hinder our ability to rapidly move forces and we are also committed to exploring innovative solutions to improve regulatory issues. The EU is well-placed with its existing competences to support this work, while respecting the sovereignty of national decision-making bodies. However, the UK strongly believes that NATO’s role is crucial in the delivery of the action plan. We are keen to ensure, not only that any work is fully coherent with existing NATO work strands, and that the Alliance’s requirements are effectively incorporated as part of the implementation. With this approach, the EU can support NATO’s objectives using levers that the Alliance could not influence unaided and therefore make tangible progress in an area of strategic importance to the UK.

4.6The European Commission fleshed out its specific proposals for EU action to improve military mobility in policy paper in November 2017, and a lengthier ‘Military Mobility Action Plan‘ in March 2018. We considered these in our Reports of 19 December 2017 and 2 May 2018. On 3 June 2019, the Commission published a progress report identifying what had been achieved over the past 18 months:

4.7In terms of next steps, the Member States are expected to update the EU’s Military Requirements in summer 2019 to take into account the outcome of the gap analysis of Europe’s transport infrastructure for military use. Afterwards, they will establish a list of priority dual-use transport projects to receive funding from the EU’s 2021–2027 Connecting Europe Facility. As regards the movement of dangerous goods for military purposes, the Commission has said it is considering a way forward (which could include potential amendments to the EU’s Dangerous Goods Directive on movement of hazardous goods by road or waterways, which at present does not apply to military convoys).24 The European Defence Agency is coordinating a project on streamlining customs procedures for eligible military goods, looking at both alignment of EU and NATO customs forms and the digitisation of the military customs process within the EU.

4.8The Minister for Europe and the Americas (Rt Hon. Sir Alan Duncan MP) submitted an Explanatory Memorandum on the Commission’s progress report on 18 June 2019, summarising its substance and reiterating the UK’s support for the Military Mobility project (provided it is done in close cooperation with NATO). Indeed, the Minister noted that the initiative was described at the most recent meeting of EU Member States’ Chiefs of Defence Staff as the “flagship EU-NATO project”, because of the EU’s ability to “harmonise legislation and process across Member States and to identify gaps in, and provide funding to upgrade, Europe’s transport infrastructure”. He added that the UK has joined the European Defence Agency project on harmonising customs procedures for military equipment.

4.9The Commission is due to present a further progress report on Military Mobility in the EU by summer 2020.

Our conclusions

4.10We thank the Minister for his informative update on progress made by the Member States and the EU institutions on the Military Mobility action plan. We note that the initiatives being undertaken under this umbrella remain of interest to the Government given the possible benefits to the UK’s armed forces, and the Minister’s assessment that “the value of the EU’s work to NATO lies largely in the ability of the EU to harmonise legislation and process across Member States and to identify gaps in, and provide funding to upgrade, Europe’s transport infrastructure”.

4.11We remain of the view that any military mobility actions undertaken by the EU within its areas of regulatory competence—such as investment in dual-use infrastructure, or the simplification of customs and VAT procedures on intra-EU movements of military supplies—are likely to be of little direct benefit to the UK in the longer term after it has ceased to be a Member State of the EU.25

4.12In particular, funding from the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) to non-EU countries is likely to be restricted only to cases where “ it is indispensable to the achievement of the objectives of a given project of common interest”.26 Moreover, as we have noted elsewhere, the continued uncertainty about the ratification of the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement means it is unclear if the UK and EU will have a financial settlement in place on ‘exit day’ to govern any legacy commitments to the EU budget as agreed in the December 2017 Joint Report. In the absence of a resolution of the financial issue, it is highly unlikely the EU would allow the UK to participate in any of its programmes or funding instruments (including the Connecting Europe Facility and European Defence Fund).27 It is unclear if the Government believes there are any gaps in the UK’s dual-use transport links to the Continent that would benefit from potential investment from the CEF to make them more suitable for military use.

4.13With respect to the intergovernmental initiatives to facilitate Military Mobility being undertaken under the auspices of PESCO, such as the harmonisation of procedures related to troop movements, the UK’s position remains ambiguous. The Government is not currently signed up to the project, and also decided against joining the new agreement on cross-border movement permissions signed by 23 other EU countries in May 2019. However, the Ministry of Defence has consistently said that UK participation in the Military Mobility project overall could be in the national interest because of “its potential to resolve common practical, legal and regulatory impediments to NATO’s ability to manoeuvre forces and equipment across Europe”, and it already participates in the EDA initiative to facilitate customs controls on military equipment.28 The specific rules for ‘third’ (non-EU) country participation in individual PESCO projects are still being drawn up by the twenty-five participating Member States, and may be adopted in summer 2019.

4.14Whatever the outcome of the UK’s negotiations on a new foreign policy and security partnership with the EU, it is clear that any British participation in EU defence structures or programmes, whether before or after Brexit, will remain controversial. There has been no indication from the Government about how it would seek Parliament’s approval for UK participation in specific PESCO projects, such as the Military Mobility initiative, should it favour such involvement at a later stage. We will press the Government on this further as and when the proposed rules for ‘third country’ participation in PESCO are deposited for scrutiny, with particular reference to the potential implications of UK participation in the Military Mobility project.

4.15The question of dialogue between the Government and Parliament on involvement in EU defence programmes after Brexit is a wider issue that the House will also want to scrutinise closely as and when the Government begins to negotiate its desired “ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across […] foreign policy, security and defence”, as set out in the Political Declaration on the future UK-EU relationship. In addition to possible participation in PESCO, the Government has also stated that this could involve continue contributing of troops, equipment or funding to specific EU military operations; an Administrative Arrangement with the European Defence Agency; and potentially even a financial contribution to the European Defence Fund. We urge the Government to work closely with the House of Commons on these matters proactively to establish whether sufficient parliamentary support exists for participation in EU defence projects, before any such involvement is formally decided on.

4.16Given the Government’s indication that it would like to remain involved in the EU’s initiatives around military mobility, we consider the European Commission’s progress report of particular interest. We therefore draw it to the attention of the House, and of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees in particular. We will assess the rules for ‘third country’ participation in PESCO when these are deposited for scrutiny by the Government later this year.

Full details of the documents

Joint Report on the implementation of the Action Plan on Military Mobility: (40607), 9863/19, JOIN(2019) 11.

Previous Committee Reports

None on this document. However, we have previously considered the EU’s Military Mobility initiative in December 2017 and May 2018. See (39202), 14237/17 JOIN(2017) 41: Seventh Report HC 301–vii (2017–19), chapter 14 (19 December 2017); and (39606), 7633/18 JOIN(2018) 5: Twenty-Sixth Report HC 301–xxv (2017–19), chapter 10 (2 May 2018).

15 The UK, alongside Malta and Denmark, has not signed up to PESCO.

16 Non-executive military operations are operations that provide an advisory role to the host nation only. Executive operations are operations mandated to conduct actions in replacement of the host nation’s own armed forces. The MPCC at present only provides operational planning and conduct for non-executive operations (the EU’s military training missions in Mali, Somalia and the Central African Republic), but from 2020 is meant to take on a (limited) role in relation to the EU’s executive military operations as well.

17 At present, this funding is provided under the Preparatory Action on Defence Research (PADR) and the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP). Both initiatives run until the end of 2020. From 2021, they will be subsumed into a larger European Defence Fund, which is currently being negotiated between the Member States and the European Parliament.

18 The UK remains an EU Member State until 31 October 2020. If the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified before then, it would stay bound by EU law during a transitional period lasting until at least 31 December 2020 but potentially until 31 December 2022. The UK’s relationship with EU law in a ‘no deal’ scenario, or beyond the transition period, remains unknown and depends on future negotiations.

19 Council document 14770/18.

20 European Commission staff working document SWD(2019) 175.

21 The European Parliament and the Member States have reached agreement on the legal framework for the 2021–2027 Connecting Europe Facility, including the ‘military mobility’ component, but the precise budget is unlikely to be agreed until 2020 as part of the wider discussions on the EU’s next Multiannual Financial Framework. See our Report of 28 November 2018 for more information.

22 The Agreement was signed in 2003 but could only take effect after having been ratified by all EU Member States.

23 All but Finland. Ireland, while part of PESCO, is not a member of the Military Mobility project. The UK, Denmark and Malta have not joined PESCO altogether.

24 Directive 2008/68/EC, as amended. Article 1 provides that the Directive “shall not apply to the transport of dangerous goods […] by vehicles, wagons or vessels belonging to or under the responsibility of the armed forces”.

25 Streamlining measures related to customs and tax will have little impact on the UK once it is outside of the Customs Union and Single Market.

26 See article 5 of the European Commission proposal for the 2021–2027 Connecting Europe Facility.

27 The Committee is separately considering an EU proposal on continued UK contributions to the EU budget even in a ‘no deal’ scenario. See for more information our Report of 3 April 2019.

28 See for example the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum of 24 May 2019 on the EU’s first annual report on PESCO.

Published: 9 July 2019